Italian Superstitions Gone Wrong

It’s finally happened.

I’ve cracked and gone full religious fanatic. Which is pretty funny, coming from an atheist.

After much turmoil surrounding the sale of our house and purchase of a new one, I’ve come to a place where I need to rely on much more than my own “positive thinking.” (I put that in quotes because as much as I try, I always end up over on the dark side going, “Fuck this shit, I give up.”)

St. Joseph statue
St. Joseph, the patron saint of real estate.

Last night I received a package from my Auntie Dee, who owns a religious store. She had sent us a statue of St. Joseph, the patron saint of selling homes. Her instructions were to bury him in the yard and say a prayer every morning. When my mom told me she had mailed the package, my initial reaction was, “ummmm, I’m not doing that.” By the time it came in the mail, I raced outside to bury that statue faster than you can say, “Madonna Mia!”

I looked for a spot where I thought he could watch over the whole house, and where it would also not be too much of a pain in the ass to dig up. I found the perfect location, amongst the wood chips in our “flower bed” in the backyard (that has no flowers, only dying grasses and a rosebush with no roses). I dug and dug, and the ground was tough and unyielding, but the statue was small, so I felt I had reached the appropriate depth after only a minute or two. As instructed, I shoved St. Joseph head-first into the hole. I was about 2 inches shy, so I pulled him out and dug down further, this time grunting and sweating because, by God, I couldn’t get him in there fast enough. When I reached over to pick up the statue and bury him again, I picked him up and to my horror discovered…

I had decapitated him.

St. Joseph the Protector was now St. John the Baptist.

Quickly, quickly, I dropped the head into the hole with the body and buried it as fast as I could, so as to pretend it really didn’t happen. I felt like a murderer burying one of my victims. I knelt down in the grass, squeezed my eyes shut, and said a prayer, shutting out the image of the severed statue head and hoping to God that I didn’t just screw us over even more.

To make doubly sure I didn’t just curse my house, I ran inside and immediately lit a stick of sage, walking through each room and releasing it of its negative energy, praying for positivity, prosperity, and happiness (all while St. Joseph’s vacant eyes on his body-less head kept floating into my thoughts). When I finished smudging the house, I opened all the windows to let out the lingering smoke and release the negativity. Then I sat down and laughed to myself for a good 30 minutes.

cornicello charm
My family calls this cornicello the “maloork” or “malook” but I have no idea how to spell that or if it’s even a real word.

You see, as much as I thought I was losing my Italian heritage, I can never escape the one thing that binds all us olive-skinned folk together (besides Italian Mother Guilt): superstition. We wear our cornicello (“little horn”) necklace to ward off the evil eye. We do the sign of the cross anytime anyone mentions a family member who is sick or who recently passed. And us Italians who settled in the northeast combine our Catholic-based superstitions with New England traditions, never putting away our winter coats until it’s well into May (otherwise we’ll invite the snow back with our optimism), and never in-the-bagging a Red Sox game until the final out of the final inning.

So, despite my blunder, I will say that prayer to St. Joseph every morning—even though it makes me feel like a giant hypocrite. I will not consider the beheading a warning, but an amusing anecdote, even though this is not the first time a religious relic has been mailed to me and lost its head. (Seriously…my cousin sent me a guardian angel after my miscarriage, and it arrived in the mail with its head broken off.) I will embrace my Italian superstitions, however silly they might seem, because at least they give me hope.

And if all else fails, I can tell my son the really funny story about how we couldn’t sell our house because Mom decapitated a Catholic saint and buried him in the backyard, like a good Italian does.

green of skin, black of heart

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